The Big Chill, Eastnor Castle Deer Park, Herefordshire

The sun shines on the Chill
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The Independent Culture

The trees were a major source of comfort at the Big Chill: the sun shone throughout the weekend, forcing festival-goers into the shade. This year's event, in Eastnor Castle's rolling Deer Park, pulled its biggest crowd yet - 10 stages and 27,000 punters over three days, a sizeable rise from last year's 16,000. For the first time, Radio1 covered the event, broadcasting Gilles Peterson's show live on Sunday evening.

The trees were a major source of comfort at the Big Chill: the sun shone throughout the weekend, forcing festival-goers into the shade. This year's event, in Eastnor Castle's rolling Deer Park, pulled its biggest crowd yet - 10 stages and 27,000 punters over three days, a sizeable rise from last year's 16,000. For the first time, Radio1 covered the event, broadcasting Gilles Peterson's show live on Sunday evening.

The Big Chill was concocted 10 years ago by a group of friends who loved late-Eighties outdoor parties but craved child-friendly events. Big Chill 2004 was intended to be the eco-festival's most commercial outing. This year, the Zen-seeking BodySoul area reached epic proportions with 150 healers. Caring for the environment was a high priority, and the main arena didn't stink of burgers because organic and vegetarian food topped the menu. There was even an Eco-Arcadia, the world's first bio-diesel-powered pinball arcade. So the ethical crowd wasn't impressed when at midday on Saturday, in between cans of Red Stripe, the ageing DJ Derek said: "Music is my wife because it usually does what I tell it." But they were too polite to heckle.

By day, the music was as relaxed as you'd expect - plenty of reggae and singalong classics. Norman Jay received a cracking reception on the Main Stage when he played his mix of Kelis's "Milkshake". Sean Rowley had many festivalgoers braving the afternoon sunshine, too, when he promoted his Guilty Pleasures album, built on the idea of tracks which people love but are too embarrassed to admit to. Steely Dan's "Get Back Jack" and Toto's "Rosanna" had the crowd reliving Student Union days.

More soft rock came in Mylo's live set on Friday night. On his debut album, the Isle of Skye native has mixed tracks such as "Need You Tonight" with electro - and in the process has become the future of dance music. He finished the set with the club hit "Drop the Pressure". Mylo appeared as part of Tom Middleton's showcase for his new mix album, The Trip. The long-time Chill collaborator and man of many guises, from Amba to Jedi Knights, hosted Tom's Top Tent, which was a more intimate space than the official Club Tent.

Citing Trotsky and Stevie Wonder as influences, Bill Brewster's Fat Camp trio roused the Chill Stage on Saturday evening with re-edited versions of tracks like Bowie's "Let's Dance". One chubby man was so excited he removed his clothes and performed handstands before being gently asked to cover up. In fact, with Marc Almond playing an electro set on Sunday, the Chill stage didn't live up to its name at all.

By night, The Big Chill relived its rave roots and the two 24-Hour Cafés were jammed with people looking for a party after the 3am shutdown. The headliners X-Press 2 said that their set, which included a chugged-up version of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams" and finished with the Derrick May classic "Strings of Life", was one of their best. Emanating from six decks, their immense sound had the cavernous Club Tent heaving to tunes far less poppy than their David Byrne hit "Lazy". Meanwhile, Sancho Panza, the sound-system famed for their Carnival appearances and boat parties, turned the Strongbow tent into a scene from Ibiza, with dancers clambering up on to ledges. On Saturday, Rob da Bank raised hands in the air as Mike from The Cuban Brothers sang along to James Brown's "Get up offa That Thing" and Lionel Richie's "All Night Long".

Expansion forced the Big Chill to relocate three years ago, but its followers have remained faithful, buying into a brand that now includes T-shirts, a record label and a new bar in Shoreditch. Although this year's event sold out weeks ahead, the festival was so well planned, it didn't feel crowded. A spacious and eco-conscious rave for kids of all ages, Big Chill 2004 was hotter than ever before.

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